Debate Renewed: Can Uber and Lyft Solve Congestion?

A new study predicts the congestion relief benefits of carpooling services offered by Transportation Network Companies. A skeptical audience replies.

1 minute read

January 9, 2017, 10:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

Congestion versus mobility

e2dan / Shutterstock

"For years, Uber and Lyft have been promising to save the world from traffic jams," reports Marisa Kendall. "A new study suggests they might actually do it."

MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory produced the study, finding that the carpool services transportation network companies make available "could reduce the number of vehicles on the road by 75 percent."

The key is that users actually chose to take shared rides. The shared ride option has gained some traction already, writes Kendall: "In cities where UberPool is available, Uber customers choose the carpool option for 20 percent of trips, according to the ride-hailing company." 

The study responds to past studies in San Francisco and New York that make the opposite claim. In New York, the Department of Transportation proposed a cap of the number of TNC vehicles operating in the city, with congestion data backing the proposal. In San Francisco, the Municipal Transportation Agency asked for an environmental review of TNC operations.

Joe Cortright was compelled to write an article casting doubt on the blue-sky scenario described by the MIT study. Cortright calls out several fallacies that contribute to what he calls "uncritical techno-optimism" regarding transportation technology advancements: the fixed demand fallacy, the big data fallacy, and the mathematical model fallacy.

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